Indiana Jones: The Inspiration behind the Legendary Explorer

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic 1981 film directed by the renowned and talented Steven Spielberg. The classic movie was the first time Indiana Jones was introduced into the world. The adventurous college professor played by Harrison Ford has become iconic and comes to mind whenever you think of a fictional explorer. But is he fictional? Or was he based on a real person? Almost all forms of art are inspired by something or someone.

Roy Chapman Andrews
Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960). American Explorer, Adventurer, and Naturalist. Director of the American Museum of Natural History. Photo By Granger/Shutterstock

Roy Chapman Andrews was an academic, an archaeologist, and an explorer. He became a national celebrity thanks to his writings, and his discoveries made him a scientific hero. So how did a kid from Beloit, Wisconsin, end up inspiring a massively successful Hollywood franchise? His courage, bravery, and determination are already inspiring, so a movie about his explorations was sure to be a hit.

This is the true man behind the most epic explorer in Cinema History, Indiana Jones. Plus, we threw in some fun facts about the movie franchise!

One Lucky Boy

On January 26th, 1884, Roy Chapman Andrews was born in Beloit. He grew up exploring the streams and fields on the west side of town. As a child, Andrews taught himself taxidermy and used it to pay for tuition at Beloit College. While he was in school, Andrews almost died in a boating accident in Rock River. He was canoeing in flood-raised waters with a buddy when they both fell into the strong current.

Carl Akeley, Raymond Ditmars, Carl Lumholtz, and Roy Chapman Andrews
from the left, Carl Akeley, Raymond Ditmars, Carl Lumholtz, and Roy Chapman Andrews. Owner Frank Seaman is standing. They were four of the era’s most prominent explorers and naturalists. Photo By Underwood Archives/UIG/Shutterstock

Sadly, his friend didn’t make it. Andrews couldn’t help him because he was swept away. He hung on to a submerged tree and made it to shore from there. Andrews later said that the reason he was so protected in his travels is that he was “born under a lucky star.” But, in reality, it was his attention to safety, instilled in him after this life-threatening incident.

Escaping Death

After graduating from Beloit College in 1906, Andrews headed to New York City to work at the American Museum of Natural History. Unfortunately, there weren’t any open job positions when he got there. But the determined Andrews wasn’t going to give up on his dream of working at the museum. He persisted and was eventually hired to clean the floors and help out the taxidermy department.

Roy Chapman Andrews / Harrison Ford
Source: American Museum of Natural History / Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM

It didn’t take long for Andrews to climb up the ladder, and he soon found himself in the field. At the start of his career, he explored massive swathes of Asia and continued to cheat death. Andrews remembered ten times he almost died in his early days.

All the Times He Almost Died

In his book, On the Trail of the Ancient Man, Andrews recalled his near-death experiences and let me tell you, they are pretty relatable: “Two were from drowning in typhoons, one was when our boat was charged by a wounded whale, once my wife and I were nearly eaten by wild dogs…”

Roy Chapman Andrews

That list goes on. Andrews continued, “Once we were in great danger from fanatical lama priests, two were close calls when I fell over cliffs, once was nearly caught by a huge python, and twice I might have been killed by bandits.” Yikes! This guy is certainly living on the edge. But I respect his bravery.

Off to the Desert

But Andrews’ most famous adventures were his voyages into the Gobi Desert in the 1920s. At the time, Andrews discovered various complete dinosaur skeletons and also the biggest collection of mammals to ever be recovered in one single trip. He was actually one of the first historians to find conclusive evidence that mammals lived alongside dinosaurs.

The book

A collection of dinosaur eggs he found in the Gobi Desert were arguably his best-known discovery. The public went crazy for these, much to Andrews’ annoyance. First of all, he wasn’t the first person to discover eggs; they were found decades earlier by a French priest. Plus, Andrews didn’t enjoy talking about it, claiming it’s a distraction from a more important discovery: the full skeleton of an oviraptor, who was there to steal the eggs.

Indiana Jones

Long after Andrews left the field, his explorations remained in the imaginations of Americans. He wrote 13 books, and his daring personality helped inspire a string of adventure movies in the 1950s. Many of them included heroes based on brave men like Andrews. These works went on to inspire a whole new generation of filmmakers with advanced technology to really do the stories cinematic justice. Acclaimed director Steven Spielberg worked on a George Lucas script about the brainy exploring hero in 1981.

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, 'Raiders of the Lost Arc' film premiere, London, UK - 1982
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, ‘Raiders of the Lost Arc’ film premiere, London, UK – 1982. Photo By Ilpo Musto/Shutterstock

To be fair, Lucas never came out and said, “Indiana Jones is Roy Chapman Andrews.” However, their resemblance goes far beyond being adventurous badasses from Beloit. It’s hard to deny that Andrews influenced adventure flicks like Raiders of the Lost Ark. I mean, by proxy, Indiana Jones is Roy Chapman Andrews. Even if Lucas or Spielberg never officially confirmed it.

Another Prospect

So, we know Roy Chapman Andrews was one explorer whom Indiana Jones was based on, but he wasn’t the only person to inspire the character. In 1880, British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley was born in London. He may be partly responsible for the biblical mythology narrative in Indiana Jones. Woolley explored the Sudan area with T.E. Lawrence- the real Lawrence of Arabia.

Sir Leonard Woolley with Lawrence of Arabia during the excavations at Karkemish, near Aleppo in Syria.
Sir Leonard Woolley with Lawrence of Arabia during the excavations at Karkemish, near Aleppo in Syria. Source: Wikipedia

Woolley enjoyed finding lost and ancient cities and would eventually help discover a Hittite city in Syria as well as the ancient Sumerian city of Ur. He was also involved in the excavation and discovery of ancient Egypt. Among his biggest findings were royal tombs that could be traced back to almost 3,000 years! He learned more about ancient cities in Mesopotamia as well as locations in Turkey.

Sir Leonard Woolley

Woolley also investigated evidence of a global flood dating back to the time of Noah. His interest in biblical accounts could have quite possibly inspired the Indiana Jones premises, including the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail. The Penn Museum contains information about Woolley’s desire to preserve the treasures, just like Indiana Jones.

Sir Leonard Woolley carefully excavating a statuette depicting a worshipper.
Sir Leonard Woolley carefully excavating a statuette depicting a worshipper. Source:

What makes Woolley so much like Indiana Jones is that he was considered one of the best archaeologists ever, and he really had a knack for finding the right sites and locations. He studied at Oxford University before traveling to Germany and France to learn other languages that would help him with his explorations.

Matching Personalities

It doesn’t come as a surprise that this brave man also served during World War I and somehow ended up in a Turkish prison! It looks like his work in India influenced the Temple of Doom, and he would later become an elite lecturer, as well as an author.

WWII: Sir Leonard Woolley, Archaeological Advisor to the British War Office and head of its MFA & A Sub-Commission.
Sir Leonard Woolley, Archaeological Advisor to the British War Office and head of its MFA & A Sub-Commission. Photo By Northcliffe Collection/ANL/Shutterstock

A major character trait Woolley shares with Indiana Jones is his unique charm. This particular attribute was how he was able to easily win over so many people. Since he had a good sense of humor, the fact that he was so persistent and determined was significant. All his traits combined perfectly make up our brave, big-screen hero, Indiana Jones.

Making Millions

Considering its immense success, budgets for the Indiana Jones films have gone up with each subsequent movie. It went from $20 million for the first movie, $28 million for the sequel, and a whopping $48 million for the third one. But it was the fourth movie that made all those other budgets look like nothing.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had a budget that was higher than all three movies combined, an unbelievable $185 million. This budget was a well-spent investment since the movie made an incredible $790 million. But I’m not that surprised. I would expect nothing less from Steven Spielberg and the Indiana Jones franchise.

No Sneak Peek

One of the perks of being a filmmaker is getting to decide whom to cast and being able to put your own kids in their movies. Judd Apatow did it, Kevin Smith did it, heck even Steven Spielberg has done it. Remember the diner scene in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Spielberg’s daughter, Sasha Spielberg, was cast as the girl who punches Mutt in the face.

Sasha Spielberg in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Sasha Spielberg in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Source: YouTube

There was a lot of concern that movie theatre employees might try and get an early viewing of the latest Indiana Jones installment, so the film was sent to theaters with a lock on it, and they only got the combination on the release date. It seems like a pretty smart move if you ask me.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

When the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones film was announced, there was no set title. Six names were registered with the Motion Picture Association of America: The City of Gods, The Destroyer of Worlds, The Lost City of Gold, The Fourth Corner of Earth, and The Quest for the Covenant. Finally, at the 2007 VMAs, Shia Labeouf revealed the official title of the movie.

Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Harrison Ford, and Karen Allen
Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Harrison Ford, and Karen Allen. Photo By Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock

Sean Connery was asked to return to the big-screen and reprise his famous role as Indy’s father in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but he turned it down. The actor saw the role as being too minor, and he was enjoying his retirement.

What Could Have Been

Reportedly, Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Frank Darabont and M. Night Shyamalan each wrote a script for the fourth Indiana Jones movie. But of course, David Koepp’s script was ultimately chosen. During an interview, Darabont revealed that Spielberg actually liked his script, but George Lucas did not, so Darabont left the project.

The Shawshank Redemption - 1994 Director Frank Darabont
The Shawshank Redemption – 1994 Director Frank Darabont. Photo By ITV/Shutterstock

But for all you curious cats and kittens out there, Darabont’s script, titled The City of the Gods, is available online. You can go read it and see what could have been! If you are an Indiana Jones fan, I highly recommend it. Darabont has written amazing scripts, including A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Shawshank Redemption, to name just a few.


Actress Karen Allen, who played Marion Ravenwood in the first installment, Raiders of the Lost Ark, had no idea that she was considered for the fourth film. Until Steven Spielberg called her up and told her that they are making a new Indiana Jones movie, and she was in it.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Karen Allen
Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Karen Allen. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

All the Indiana Jones movies were smashing hits. Audiences love the cast, characters, and action-filled fun. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the only Indiana Jones movie that did not win an Academy Award, breaking the streak. However, the film made $790 million in the box office, making it a major success.

Toning it Down

Many actors were featured in several Indiana Jones movies, but Ford is the only one to appear in the first three, other than Pat Roach. If you can’t remember who Roach played, that might be because he portrayed a different character every time. In fact, he played two characters in Raiders of the Lost Ark. His streak ended with The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull since he had passed away four years earlier.

Harrison Ford and Pat Roach in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Harrison Ford and Pat Roach in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Source:

Raiders of the Lost Ark was initially given an R rating because of a scene where the Ark of the Covenant is opened. After seeing what’s inside, Bellog’s head exploded, and the MPAA deemed it as too violent for a PG rating. However, adding a layer of fire over the melting heads bumped it down to a PG rating.

Full of Adventures

The real scar on Ford’s chin was incorporated into his character in The Last Crusade. The movie explained how the character got it, and it was in a rather cool way compared to the actor’s story. Ford got the scar when he tried putting on his seatbelt as he was driving and crashed into a pole. Young, inexperienced Indy, got the scar by accidentally hitting himself in the face with a whip.

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

There are endless adventures that Indiana Jones could go on, which is why they were so many ideas generated and various scripts written. Lucas wanted to see the protagonist explore a haunted mansion in Scotland, and, in another version, he headed to Africa to battle the Monkey King. Chris Columbus even wrote a script for the latter. I would have personally loved to see Indy in a haunted mansion.

Hi, My Name Is…

The first time the franchise ever revealed Indiana Jones’ real name was in The Last Crusade. Indy’s father, Henry Jones, keeps referring to him as Junior, and when he asks why he says, that’s his name- Henry Jones Jr.

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

After revealing Indy’s real name, his dad mentioned that their dog’s name was Indiana. Strangely, that’s how Lucas came up with the name Indiana Jones in the first place; it was his dog’s name! There was also a pretty good reason why Connery was chosen to play Indy’s father. Apparently, Spielberg’s dream was to direct a James Bond film, and wanted James Bond to be Indy’s dad.

Impressive Cast

Harrison Ford worked with River Phoenix on The Mosquito Coast and was extremely impressed by his talent. So much so that he helped Phoenix land the role of young Indy in The Last Crusade. In preparation for the role, Phoenix said he watched and imitated Ford directly, as opposed to imitating his performance as Indy.

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, River Phoenix
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, River Phoenix. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

While filming a scene in The Last Crusade, Sean Connery proved he’s quick on his feet. When Indy asked Henry how he knew Elsa was a white supremacist, his response was “she talks in her sleep,” which was improvised by the actor. Apparently, everyone started cracking up, so Spielberg decided to put it in the film.

Too Offensive

Temple of Doom was originally supposed to be shot in India; the locations were even scouted and chosen. However, after reading the script, the Indian government deemed it offensive to their culture. They would only grant filming permits if they were given the final cut of the movie. The producers decided to pass and filmed in a different location.

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw
Indiana Jones And the Temple of Doom, Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Did you know Dan Akroyd makes a surprise appearance in Temple of Doom? You may have missed his surprise cameo because he only appears on screen for 18 seconds as the man who greets Indy, Short Round, and Willie at the airport before putting them on the plane.

Double Trouble

We know Ke Huy Quan played Short Round in Temple of Doom, but it turns out he stole the role from his brother, who originally auditioned for it. Quan was in the room during his brother’s audition and kept chiming in, telling him how to act. At one point, the producers asked Quan to show them what he’s got. Obviously, he got the part.

George Lucas, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, and Steven Spielberg
George Lucas, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, and Steven Spielberg. Photo By Ilpo Musto/Shutterstock

While shooting Temple of Doom, Ford hurt his back and needed to return to the United States for surgery. Spielberg didn’t want to hold back filming, so he decided to carry on and film the conveyor belt fight scene using Vic Armstrong, Ford’s stunt double, but only from behind. When Ford recovered, they shot a few takes from the front and edited it all together for the final cut.

At the end of the day, no matter who inspired him, Indiana Jones is a fictional character. But he isn’t the only hero in modern American history. While he explored the lands, other people were fighting for it. This is the story of Audie Murphy, a WWII soldier who became a Hollywood powerhouse.